Biden, Under Fire on Race, Apologizes for Remarks on Segregationists

“I was vetted by him and ten serious lawyers he appointed, go back look at every single thing” in his record, “from finances to anything I had done, everything,” Mr. Biden said of Mr. Obama. “And he selected me. I’ll take his judgment about my record, my character my ability to handle the job over anyone else’s.”

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For weeks, Mr. Biden’s aides had watched in frustration as much of the conversation around the former vice president had centered not on his time in the White House — which is how voters know him best — but on controversies dating back to the 1970s.

Mr. Biden had brought up those relationships himself as he fondly recalled a more civil time in the Senate at a fund-raiser last month. He has a habit of telling stories that date back decades, and that can sometimes sound off-key in today’s more progressive Democratic Party.

But the speech was a new effort to focus on a more forward-looking message, after spending the Fourth of July holiday in Iowa locked in a back-and-forth with Senator Kamala Harris over the issue of federally mandated busing.

Ms. Harris had been pressed by reporters to clarify her current position on that issue after attacking Mr. Biden for his 1970s-era opposition to many busing measures during the first Democratic primary debate. His campaign suggested that, despite her criticism, Ms. Harris’s position today is essentially the same as his, while she said that the civil rights environment in the 1970s had been different than it is now, and that his position at that time was “wrong.”

“I know that many want this campaign to be about my past,” he said. “I get it. That’s the game. But this isn’t a game. Every one of you know, no matter who you’re for, know in your bones, know this election is different.”

[We tracked down the 2020 Democrats and asked them the same set of questions. Watch them answer.]

Mr. Biden also made clear that in contrast to some of his more liberal opponents, he is not calling for revolutionary change on issues like the Affordable Care Act, noting his support for a public option. It was an implicit contrast with those who would support bolder change as part of proposals like Medicare for All, and a sign of his increased willingness to engage with his opponents rather than keeping his focus on President Trump.